With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Richmond Is at a Crossroads. Will Arthur Ashe Boulevard Point the Way?

I wasn’t ready.

As a reporter, I had seen death at the hands of street gangs, and life in the hands of a surgeon placing a new heart into the chest of a 10-month-old boy.

But nothing had ever made me feel like this.

My arms grew hot, prickly. My legs would not move. My stomach cramped. Was I going to throw up? I felt sweat on my forehead. Tears pooled in my eyes. They were tears of sadness, then despair, finally anger.

I had tried to prepare myself: “It’s only going to be a statue.”

But when I looked up and saw it, bronze and nearly three stories tall — Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson sternly astride his horse in the middle of a Richmond intersection — I lost my moorings.

This is the Civil War capital of the Confederacy. I count slaves among my ancestors. This also is the birthplace and childhood home of my idol, Arthur Ashe, the first African-American on the United States Davis Cup team and, so far, the only black man to win the singles championship at Wimbledon, at the Australian Open and at the United States Open.

My son, Ashe, 8, is named after him.

Early this year, amid opposition and racial tension, the Richmond City Council decided to rename Boulevard, one of its most historic thoroughfares, after Arthur Ashe. When new street signs are unveiled on Saturday, it will become Arthur Ashe Boulevard. It will slice across Monument Avenue, known for its outsized statues of Confederate generals, at the very intersection where I was staring into the face of Stonewall Jackson.

Arthur Ashe Boulevard will cut through an avenue of ghosts, not all of them friendly. Richmond is checkered with bronze and stone tributes to the Lost Cause. At a time when this country is at a crossroads, this will become an intersection where the sordid, sinful and divisive past meets an inclusive, hopeful vision for the future. Symbolically, it will ask the question: Which way are we going?

Which way, Richmond? Which way, America?

Which way?

Read entire article at NY Times